New Rules Streamline Renewable Energy Permitting Process on Tribal Lands

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazaar announced the most significant changes ( in federal management of Indian lands in 50 years. These new rules seek to improve what has been seen as an extremely cumbersome Bureau of Indian Affairs process for getting leases of these lands approved. Significantly, one of the affected categories of land leases are those for renewable energy project.

Under the new rules, the BIA will have 60 days to approve a project, before it is automatically approved. This is important, as tribal leaders look forward to economic growth that could come from investment in renewable energy projects. Tribal lands make up 5% of the land area of the United States, but 10% of it’s total renewable energy resource.

An example of the kind of deal these new rules streamline, is the recently announced power purchase agreement between the Los Angeles Department of Public Works (DPW) and the K Road Moapa solar project ( A solar power purchase agreement usually involves a project sponsor who finances the construction of the project, a landholder who leases the land to the project, and an offtaker, who make the investment worthwhile by contracting to purchase the power over the projects lifetime. DPW will purchase solar electricity over 25 years, helping to fulfill part of their renewable requirement under California’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). At peak capacity, the 250 MW system could provide up to 4% of Los Angeles’ power. An added benefit for the Moapa is that the solar plant will hasten the possible shutdown of a nearby coal fired plant, which has been the implicated in pollution related health complaints.

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After Hurricane Sandy Do We Need to (Finally) Rethink Our Water Supply?

Having easy access to Earth’s most vital resource is something that many people take for granted. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the water supply was one of the few services that remained largely intact and was thus ignored. Many climate change models, however, anticipate stronger storms in the future. With some pipes dating back to the time of the Civil War, how much longer can this indispensable infrastructure be ignored? Without upgrade, the current system is expected to cost $335 billion over the next couple decades, with over 10 percent of water currently lost to leaks. In addition to storms, a further challenge is prevalence of contaminants.

Unlike decades ago, contaminants in the water supply now include pharmaceuticals and their byproducts, methane from fracking, and endocrine disruptors from pesticide runoff. Despite these well known findings, the issue has been widely ignored and many metropolitan areas do not even test their water supplies. Currently the federal government does not require testing, nor has it set a safety limit on the amount of drugs allowed in the water. Although the exact result of these contaminants is unknown, many medical experts are concerned about the affect of long-term exposure to these contaminants. At the very least, according to Dr. David Carpenter, “We know we are being exposed to other people’s drugs through our drinking water, and that can’t be good.”

– Michael Goldberg

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Hurricane Sandy has garnered attention worldwide. The hurricane’s impact devastated the Northeast of the United States with unprecedented strength. However, some of the damage is easily overlooked in comparison to the number of homes without power, schools closed or public transportation systems. Moreover, this damage implicates the law and a need for legal remedy. In conjunction with last week’s link to tenant-landlord conflicts, the hurricane has also precipitated problems with falling trees. Though property owners may call upon the “Act of God” defense in an effort to claim innocence when a tree falls from their property and damages another person or property, the gravity of the hurricane does not simply sweep the matter aside. As this legal blog points out, property owners must still exercise reasonable care in maintaining the trees on their property. Trees represent another in the broad line of legal issues implicated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

-Christopher Chaulk

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Effects of Hurricane Sandy

As New York and New Jersey continue to recover from the Superstorm Sandy’s devastation, focus is shifting to ensuring that the right lessons are learned. The elephant that Sandy let back in the room, of course, is climate change. Man-made or not, scientists point to the predictable increase in frequency and severity of storms such as Sandy. Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and Governor Christie, for their parts, have all acknowledged the threat of climate change and stated their belief that evidence of human influence is being born out. Poor land-use decisions and inadequately designed infrastructure served to enhance the damage wrought by Sandy. In the need for recovery and reinvention however is an opportunity to tackle 21st century problems and emerge from tragedy stronger, and smarter. 

Hurricane Sandy Damage Amplified By Breakneck Development of Coast

The Huffington Post explores unheeded warnings and questionable land use practices in the decades leading to the Sandy disaster. Transportation and utility systems were shown to be painfully vulnerable. Residents look forward to rebuilding and recovery plans that reflect environmentally intelligent planning. 

Clean energy and the deeper meaning of hurricane Sandy

Cleantech development has been propelled forward for many reasons, emissions reduction among them. In the wake of Sandy, another reason pulls into focus: grid resiliency. Crippling power outages in New York and New Jersey were among the storms worst effects. Putting in place distributed generation capacity, for which renewable sources are well-suited, can help a region keep the lights on. 

Obama Will Start Second Term with Unfinished Climate Business

As California becomes the first state to open a full-fledged carbon market, speculation mounts over the roll climate issues will play in Obama’s second term. With Hurricane Sandy’s $50 billion dollar price tag fresh in the mind of federal policymakers, Bloomberg looks at policy actions the administration could take to encourage emissions reduction and economic growth.

– Ben Groff 

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Virginia Tries to Circumvent Obama on Drilling

Virginia is the new epicenter of a campaign by energy companies to gain a toehold in the potentially vast resources of natural gas and oil hidden beneath the Atlantic. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that there are 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf and 31.3 trillion cubic feet, or 886.3 million cubic meters, of natural gas. Mr. Domenech, Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, and Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, have teamed up with Virginia’s two Democratic senators to try to put Virginia’s coast on the energy map through an act of Congress.

– Bethany Henneman

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Politicians Transcend Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy devastated the Atlantic coastline. And yet it also presented an opportunity for both Democratic and Republican leaders to work together and support affected, struggling citizens, especially in the New Jersey – New York area. Particularly, President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, despite their leadership roles in opposing political parties, made genuine efforts to combine forces to meet with residents who had been hit by the storm and help figure out strategies to improve their paths to recovery. However long the recovery phase may take for the residents hardest hit by the storm, political leadership transcended party affiliation and aided in pushing the process to rebuild in an efficient, positive direction.

– Christopher Chaulk

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Chasing Ice Documentary

The E Street Cinema in D.C. will be showing the documentary “Chasing Ice” November 16-22.  The documentary portrays an environmental photographer’s journey through the Arctic to record the dramatic disappearance of glaciers.

– Emma Currin

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